United Nations agencies and Sudanese health officials are set to launch a massive nationwide polio immunization campaign after the potentially deadly virus was detected in the conflict-torn country which had previously been declared polio-free.
According to WHO, the virus was confirmed in a 30-month-old boy from South Darfur with onset of paralysis reported on 10 September. The virus has been genetically linked to the virus circulating in neighbouring Chad, where six cases were confirmed this year, with the most recent case indicating onset of paralysis on 31 August.
Prior to the confirmed polio case, Sudan had been certified polio-free, with no cases reported since August 2005.
Sudanese and UN officials are focusing on a dual-approach strategy to protect the country’s children from any further spread of the wild polio virus, known as WPV1. “Sudan will implement coordinated and cross-border outbreak response activities as Chad synchronizes its response in the next two months,” WHO Representative Dr. Mohamed Abdurrab stated.
UNICEF Representative Ted Chaiban stressed the importance of national support for these campaigns, saying “every effort must be made to ensure that all children are fully protected – part of that effort will require a firm commitment from those involved in the ongoing conflict in Darfur to guarantee safe access and movement for vaccination teams.”
A three-day immunization campaign in August, also following reports of polio being discovered in neighbouring Chad, saw some villages in Darfur not being reached by vaccinators due to tensions and insecurity.
Rising insecurity in Sudan’s western Darfur region – where some 4.2 million people are in need of assistance due to the ongoing conflict there – has lead to increased attacks against civilians and aid workers, impeding the provision of life-saving support.
“Sudan’s drive to eradicate polio has been one of the most successful health stories in this part of Africa in recent years,” Mr. Chaiban added. “We have to maintain our commitment to writing the final chapters of that story.”
With concern over the importation of the virus, health agencies have noted the particular risk of further international spread, compounded by large population movements across the region during the upcoming Hajj season.
More than 6 million children under 5 have been immunized repeatedly in each round of earlier campaigns conducted since the start of the year, thanks to the support of donors including the World Bank, Japan and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.